William Shakespeare’s Hamlet provides a deep analysis into the lives of the play’s characters and how their actions reflect mankind. The play is centered around a young prince, Hamlet, who learns of a tragic event that will impact his life immensely. Hamlet’s father has died and his uncle, Claudius, has married Hamlet’s mother and now occupies the throne as king of Denmark. Upon Hamlet’s arrival to Denmark to mourn the death of his father, he encounters what appears to be the ghost of his deceased father. The Ghost informs Hamlet that the late king was murdered by Claudius and urges Hamlet to seek revenge. Provided with this rather heavy news concerning his father’s death, Hamlet decides to set out on a journey to discover the truth for himself.
It is not uncommon for an individual to take risks to reach success. Many times, in order to achieve a certain goal, a sacrifice must be made. In Hamlet, the characters often delve into acts of deception and betrayal for the sake of obtaining something, implementing revenge, or masking the truth. These two themes remain constant throughout the progression of the play as each character participates in dishonesty and disloyalty to one another in attempt to satisfy their own selfish gains. The actions and relationships between the characters explores the dual nature of humankind and how reality often falls short of expectations. However truthful or trustworthy a character may appear to the audience, Shakespeare adds in a twist that alters the entire play.
The satisfaction of one’s desires and the advancement of one’s power in society serve a huge role in the play. As such, the characters will often go to great lengths to achieve this. Throughout the play, Hamlet frequently falls victim to the betrayal of those from his own family. Knowing that Hamlet was still in despair over his father’s passing, Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and queen of Denmark, was “quick to jump into a bed of incest” with Claudius (1.2.156-157). This course of action perhaps acts as a catalyst to Hamlet’s ‘madness’ and possibly serves as an underlying motive for avenging his father’s death. In addition, Claudius, current king of Denmark and Hamlet’s uncle, claims to love Hamlet as a son, though it is clear that his intentions lie elsewhere. By killing King Hamlet, Claudius has claimed the throne, satisfied his ambition, and married the queen. Though he is fully aware that his “soul is stuck to sin, and the more it struggles to break free, the more it sticks”, he is not ready to give up his power (3.3.69-70). It goes without saying that Claudius is indeed not remorseful, since after sensing a shift in Hamlet’s disposition, Claudius takes immediate action to ensure that the truth remains hidden. Not only do Gertrude and Claudius fall into a selfish state, but they hurt Hamlet in the act of doing so.
The ghost of King Hamlet is an important influencer in determining the fate of the characters. It is the supplier of information regarding what is said to be the truth and ultimately, the creator of conflict within the play. Upon Hamlet’s interaction with the Ghost, the young prince begins to question himself and his sanity. The Ghost wants Hamlet to “revenge his foul and unnatural murder”, yet Hamlet is presented with a moral dilemma (1.5.31). Though ending Claudius’ life may bring Hamlet peace, it does not guarantee an end to all his troubles. During the play, Hamlet sees an opportunity to kill Claudius for his wrong acts, yet notices that Claudius is kneeling in prayer. This leads Hamlet to decide that killing someone while they are praying will only send to heaven, but Hamlet wants Claudius to suffer in hell (3.3.75-85). It is ironic to note, however, that what Claudius’ prayer entailed was not what one would expect. Instead, Claudius admits that he is not ready to surrender what he gained from the murder. Therefore, Hamlet could have easily acted had he not mistrusted his own intuition. It appears Hamlet’s hesitation to act is a betrayal not only to himself, but to his father. He is at a constant war with his own thoughts and feelings. The doubt of his own rationality sends Hamlet further into his ‘madness’, which only contributes further to his downfall.
The truth of a situation will always find its way out one way or another. In the play, Hamlet struggles a great deal with indecisiveness and the inability to act. As a result, he turns to religion to seek guidance while attempting to muster up the strength to kill his uncle. This internal conflict is ongoing and remains a constant obsession for him throughout the play. Claudius, on the other hand, acts on his intuition without any forethought. It can be noted that Claudius is a foil to Hamlet as these two characters differ greatly in their moral values and actions. Claudius’ speculations about what Hamlet may or may not know sends him into a state of unease, thus he decides to send Hamlet away to England. Not only does Claudius deceive the people of Denmark by killing their king, but he tries to justify Hamlet’s leave by saying it is for the prince’s own good. Out of fear of being discovered as a murderer, Claudius also delivers a letter to England ordering the death of Hamlet so as to preserve his position as king (4.3.60-64). At the end of the play, however, death takes the lives of many of the main characters. The truth is poisonous and once it is revealed, it is “like a mouse caught in [his] own trap” (5.2.302).
Hamlet is an eloquently composed tragedy that reveals how deceit and betrayal can lead to one’s demise. Often times, the characters sacrifice their relationships with one another to fulfill their own desires. Claudius and Gertrude put an emotional strain on Hamlet’s mind in order to achieve personal satisfaction. Additionally, Hamlet must shoulder the burden of his father’s death and decide how to implement action against it. The play reveals not only an ongoing struggle with one’s family and friends, but a war with oneself. Though many people want to know the truth of a situation, it can sometimes lead to unbearable conflict. Through the interactions and responses between the characters, Shakespeare illustrates the best and the worst that can arise from human nature.